March 04, 2012

Ralph McQuarrie: 1929 – 2012

The great Ralph McQuarrie passed away yesterday at the age of 82.

Without Ralph McQuarrie we would not have Star Wars, plain and simple. George Lucas’ script was being turned down left and right. Nobody was understanding his vision. Lucas realized he couldn’t count on a studio exec having even a small amount of imagination and sought out Ralph McQuarrie to do a series of production art pieces that would visualize the world.
Lucas’ first pitch with McQuarrie’s art laid out before him was at 20th Century Fox and you know what happened next.

If that had been McQuarrie’s complete legacy we would owe him our eternal thanks, but not only did he grasp the story and imagery Lucas was desperate to put on screen, he set the template for the universe. I’ve included much of McQuarrie’s art below and when you look at his Star Wars stuff, look at how exactly his machines were adapted by ILM. I’d say you can thank Ralph for the lived-in look of the universe.

While he will be forever known for influencing the look and style of Star Wars, McQuarrie also set the template for Battlestar Galactica and produced art for Cocoon (for which he won an Oscar), Total Recall, E.T., Masters of the Universe, and Batteries Not Included.

McQuarrie’s art also influenced the mothership in Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind and he was even called upon to illustrate that great image from Indiana’s book depicting the power of the Ark of the Covenant.

Ralph McQuarrie achieved the dream of every artist: his work sparked the imaginations of millions. His particular style met with Lucas’ vision at the right time and that spark created the most iconic original film series in the history of cinema.

In my mind, McQuarrie was to Star Wars what HR Giger was to Alien. His contributions to film history are undeniable and I hope he knew they didn’t go unnoticed.

"I am deeply saddened by the passing of such a visionary artist and such a humble man," George Lucas said in a statement. "Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision Star Wars. His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original 'Star Wars' trilogy. When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph's fabulous illustrations and say, 'Do it like this.' In many ways, he was a generous father to a conceptual art revolution that was born of his artwork, and which seized the imaginations of thousands and propelled them into the film industry. In that way, we will all be benefiting from his oeuvre for generations to come. Beyond that, I will always remember him as a kind and patient, and wonderfully talented, friend and collaborator." - George Lucas


Stinson Lenz said...

A great tribute to a great artist. He will be missed.

(I have to point out, though, that 11th from the top, with Darth Vader storming the blockade runner, is a tribute to Ralph McQuarrie by Daniel James Cox.)

Ron said...

Ah, thanks, I didn't notice that, I'll remove it.